Do Apple’s Utility Apps Pose a Threat to Mobile Game Developers?

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Kevin Ford

September 22nd, 2015

Apple’s newly free utility apps completely dominated the Top Free Charts for iPhone all fall. Do these apps pose a new threat to mobile game developers?

Ever since iOS 8 came out this fall, Apple’s utility apps have been completely dominating the Top Free Charts for iPhone. While many users were excited for the free apps, there has not been much discussion about how these apps may negatively impact the rankings for mobile games.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, here’s a little background: Apple released iOS 8 to the public on September 17th, 2014. Two days later, Apple gave consumers the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. With the release of iOS 8, four of Apple’s Utility apps that had previously been paid apps became free for all devices eligible for iOS 8, including the new iPhone 6s.

The newly free utility apps that were given away with iOS 8 include Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and iMovie. Many users also received GarageBand for free. New devices with 32 GB of storage or more had the apps pre-installed; but if you bought an iOS 8 device that’s 16 GB or smaller, or if you upgraded to iOS 8 on your existing device, you were prompted to download these apps for free while you were setting up iOS 8. More details can be found on Apple’s website.

All fall, when iPhone users opened the App Store, tapped the top charts, and selected free; the first apps they saw were Apple’s utility apps. In other words, they weren’t seeing as many games because of Apple’s distribution advantage. Because of this, many game developers are questioning whether or not the App Store Top Free Charts are worth aspiring for, or if they should just focus on the Top Free Games list.

Why does this matter for iOS game developers?

Two months prior to the release of iOS 8, July 17th, 2014, there were 13 games amongst the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts for iPhone in the US. Of those 13, the top 6 were games. None of the apps in the App Store Top Free Charts were Apple’s utility apps.

One month prior to the launch of iOS 8, the trend continued with 8 games in the top 25 free charts and 0 Apple utility apps. Further, one day before the launch of iOS 8, 8 of the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts were games and 0 were Apple utility apps.

Then everything changed

The day Apple launched iOS 8, September 17th, 2014, users were prompted to download Apple’s utility apps during the iOS 8 installation process (as pictured below).

 

app_store_top_free_charts_iphone

 

Users were given the option to decline the apps; they were not forced to install them with iOS 8 and the apps were not part of the iOS 8 operating system, making them eligible for the App Store Top Free Charts. As a result, by the end of the day Apple had 4 utility apps (Pages, iMovie, Keynote, and Numbers) in the App Store Top Free Charts for iPhone in the US.

Unfortunately for game developers, new competition from Apple’s utility apps caused an immediate dip in the total number of games in the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts, falling from 8 the day before iOS 8 went public, to 4 the day of.

Two days later, when the iPhone 6 became available in stores, September 19th, 2014, the number of Apple utility apps amongst the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts increased to 7; including the top 6 placements (iMovie, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garageband, iTunes U).

ios_top_charts_september_2014 (1)

Apple utility apps held the top 6 placements in the App Store Top Free Charts on 9/19/2014. On that same day, there weren’t any games in the top 10, via AppAnnie.

Other popular utility apps from Apple such as Find My iPhone and iTunes U gained ground in the charts too. By now there were only 2 games remaining amongst the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts.

One month after the release of iOS 8, October 17th, 2014, the trend continued – fewer games were in the App Store Top Free Charts. At this point, there were 6 games and 6 Apple utility apps (iMovie, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iTunes U, GarageBand).

Previous releases of operating systems and devices benefited game developers

Historically, when new versions of iOS and iPhones went became available to the public, game developers weren’t negatively impacted. In fact, when you look at the same dates for 2013 you see that games dominated the App Store Top Free Charts before and after the release of iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s/5c.

One month before the launch of iOS 7, the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts for iPhone included 13 games and 0 Apple utility apps. The day iOS 7 launched September 18th, 2013, Apple still had 0 utility apps amongst the top 25 apps in the App Store Top Free Charts — there were 12 games.

september_18_2013

Apple utility apps did not make it into the top 25 of the App Store Top Free Charts when iOS 7 was released to the public on 9/20/2013. On that same day, games held 12 placements, via AppAnnie.

The day the iPhone 5s and 5c came out, September 20th, 2013, Apple had 2 utility apps in the 25 most popular apps in the App Store Top Free Charts and there were 8 games. One month after the launch of iOS 7, October 17th, 2013, there were 12 games and 1 Apple utility app.

Apple simply wasn’t pushing free utility apps to iPhone users last year and because of it there were more games amongst the top 25 apps in the App Store Top Free Charts.

In the past, advertising managers could burst their way up the Top Free Charts for games and then games that became household names would sometimes crossover into the App Store Top Free Charts. This fall, not as many campaigns were successful at crossing over because games were crowded out of the charts by Apple’s utility apps.

If you continue down the App Store Top Free Charts past the top 25, the number of games in the top 50 is disproportionately higher than the top 25. Two months after the release of iOS 8, 7 of the top 25 apps in the App Store Top Free Charts were games but 10 of the top 50 were games. Conversely, Apple’s utility apps occupied 6 placements in the top 25 but only 7 total in the top 50.

What can iOS game developers do to compete?

At the end of the day, it’s Apple’s platform so they can and should do what they feel is best for their users. At the same time, game developers need to recognize these trends and adjust their strategies so they can avert increased competition from utility apps. Focusing on the Top Free Games list is a good alternative.

The good news is that as the holidays draw nearer, games are starting to recover. As of December 4th, 2014, games held 12 of the top 25 spots in the App Store Top Free Charts, while Apple utility apps held 6 spots.

Now that games are working their way back into the App Store Top Free Charts, it’s clear you have a chance to burst your way up before Christmas, when people will be activating new iPhones. You should also consider bursting in January because more apps are installed in January than December.

To help ease the strain of user acquisition this holiday season, NativeX will match your $50K ad spend with an additional $50K. Find out how to get your $50K at nativeX.com/505050.

To stay up-to-date with all of our latest blog posts and mobile ad industry news, follow us on TwitterLinkedIn, andFacebook.

Kevin Ford

Marketing Manager

2015-09-22

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